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Yamaha THR10 Amplifier review

I’ll just cut straight to the point. The Yamaha THR10 is amazing. There, I said it. This is a truly outstanding, and dare I say essential, piece of kit for any musician.

I set out to write a brief 250 word review to give readers an idea of what to expect of it sonically. As it turns out, a review that short just wouldn’t do this unit justice, there are just so many good things to say about it that it really deserves a complete and thorough investigation.

I was previously asked to review the Orange Micro Crush mini amp and I had a lot of fun with it, it was small, battery powered, good looking and had a surprisingly well rounded sound for it’s size. The THR10 is also a small battery powered amp but that’s where the similarity ends. The Yamaha THR10 is in a different price bracket, and sonically, is in a totally different league. Apart from the immediately obvious difference in sound quality what does the Yamaha offer that the Orange Crush doesn’t?

Versatility. I’m also a bass player and was looking for a small, portable battery powered amp that could handle my bass for home practice without having to wheel in a 300 watt window shaking stack. The THR10 is as comfortable with a bass as it is with a six string and despite it’s tiny 3” speakers it produces a wonderfully deep and full sound.

Built on Yamaha’s VCM (Virtual Circuit Modelling) technology and using the same effects technology found in Yamaha’s high end mixing desks, the THR10 is a multi voiced tube amp emulator. It offers five different amp simulations based on some of the worlds best selling amps, in fact if you’ve heard the sound on record, you’ll find it here. Alongside bass, acoustic and flat inputs, you’ll find remarkably accurate representaions of amps from the likes of Fender, Marshall, Vox and Mesa Boogie.

Whatever you play and however you play it, there will almost certainly be a sound to suit your style. Playing clean with a touch of chorus and reverb gives the most rich jazz tones, reach for the crunch setting for searing blues solo’s and dial up the Modern setting for crisp, overdriven metal tones. I can’t think of a single style of music that can’t be faithfully replicated with one of the five main settings.

Yamaha have really have gone to town with the modelling on the THR, with the dials reacting differently from one amp model to the next just like they would on their real life counterpart. Cutting the tone back on one model may kill the sound completely yet be almost redundant on another. Likewise, a slight tweak of the gain on the Modern (Mesa style) setting results in huge overdrive, something you’ll not achieve on the clean models. It takes some time to get used to but if you’re familiar with how, say a Vox or Marshall, responds in real life, you’ll feel instantly at home.

The quality of the sounds really are second to none. I’m not a huge fan of amp simulations and have been disappointed in the past with products from the likes of Line 6 which while they offer huge variety and certainly have their place, they can have a slightly cold digital edge to them. The THR10 has changed my view, each model has a real tubelike warmth to it, always sounding lively and full. The effects are also in a different class, the reverb’s and delay’s create an incredible amount of space and the chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo are all superb replications, which when used in moderation, can make a dramatic difference to your tone. Delve deeper into the THR Editor software on a PC or Mac and you also gain access to a compressor and noise gate as well as significantly improved control of effects and a selection of different cabinet simulations. The software also gives you 50 presets created by Yamaha as well as the ability to save, and share, your own creations.

So, we’ve got a variety of amp models, some high end effects and a fistful of reverb’s and delays but it doesn’t end there. An aux input allows you to plug in your mp3 player and either play along or simply use it as a portable speaker system. The sound quality of mp3 playback is exemplary, never boxy, well defined with a remarkable wide sounding stereo effect. Bass is well handled without becoming woolly and the top end is sharp and defined without ever threatening to split. This really does provide hifi quality playback that beats a number of similar priced dedicated iPod docks.

A rear facing USB port turns the Yamaha THR10 from a near perfect practice amp to the perfect recording tool and soundcard. Fire up your favourite DAW (or use the included version of Cubase) and you can record hiss free, digitally perfect guitar tracks. You can also record both wet and dry signals simultaneously so you can preserve the raw sound of your guitar as well as the effected, modelled amp sound. It’s totally fuss free, once the driver was installed, the amp was instantly recognised by my version of Logic and the recordings were some of the clearest and best results I’ve ever had. It can also be used as a foldback device, and if home recording isn’t your thing, it still makes a great laptop soundcard and is a world away from the tinny inbuilt speakers you’ve become used to.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the speakers are too small to make a serious sound. One look at the specs sheet is enough to ring alarm bells for most people. How can a guitar and bass amp produce any kind of usable tone from just 3 inch speakers? Well, Yamaha have designed this amp for a specific purpose, to sound good at low volumes. Most guitar amps can’t reach their best tone at low volume and Yamaha have approached this differently from any other lower wattage practice amp. What Yamaha set out to do was present you with a HIFi quality, stereo guitar tone representing the final master track from a recording. And it it works. Just plug in your guitar, choose your sound and you’re gifted that dream tone that studio engineers work tirelessly to achieve. It’s more than loud enough for the home but it’s also rich, deep and expansive.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to me, the Yamaha THR10 truly is a thing of beauty. It’s retro styling sits perfectly in the lounge or studio and will almost certainly meet with the approval of the non guitar players in your household.

In short, the Yamaha THR10 is a HiFi quality stereo speaker system for your mp3 player, laptop or PC. It’s also a pro quality audio interface, and a truly outstanding practice amp. I was intrigued by Yamaha’s promotional hype but I also expected to be disapointed. I wasn’t. The THR10 truly is the best home practice amp I’ve ever heard and it’s a product that continually excites me. It really does have to be experienced to be believed, it fulfills many roles and achieves them all flawlessly.

Yamaha THR5 vs THR10

Although I reviewed the THR10 model here, there is also the Yamaha THR5 to consider.  It has the same power output but with a slightly smaller footprint and a few crucial omissions.  The features you’ll miss if you opt for the cheaper THR5 are the 5 User Memory Presets found on the THR10 and it is also missing the Bass, Acoustic and Flat settings (the THR5 is strictly guitar only, bassists and vocalists will need the larger model).  They both have exactly the same speakers and wattage but I have seen it mentioned that the larger cabinet size of the THR10 helps create a slightly louder and larger sound than the smaller model.  You’ll also have just a single tone knob rather than the Bass, Middle and Treble controls found on the THR10 and there is also no option to adjust the mix between guitar and aux input.  Whether these things matter to you will be down to personal choice but being a bass player the larger model was the only choice for me. Having now used it extensively I’m not sure I could cope without the memory presets or the full tone control.  Certainly, to my mind at least, the THR10 is the model to buy if versatility and tone control are high on your list.

FOOTNOTE 

The Yamaha THR10 and it’s smaller sibling, the THR5, were both launched at the end of 2011 in a small initial run.  These early units were plagued with a widely reported issue that caused a loud audible hum on some of the higher gain settings, the hum being so loud on some units that is actually smothered the output.  Luckily Yamaha listened to customer feedback and it appears withdrew the unit from sale so the issue could be fixed.  New stock started to arrive in UK stores late in February 2012.  The issue was due to the power adapter and all units are now being shipped the with improved PSU which I’m happy to confirm has fixed the fault.  There is no hum, hiss or feedback to be heard.  If you’re one of the unlucky early adopters and have one with a faulty PSU please contact Yamaha, they are currently in the process of replacing all the affected faulty units with the new improved power supply.

See it in action here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWjUVQbHLnM

See how to record with the Yamaha THR10 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzKOzppQi6k

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